Monday, March 19, 2012

Furman Bisher, a master himself

The news Sunday evening that Furman Bisher had died came as a shock, which is a bit surprising given Bisher was 93 years old when his heart stopped.

But Furman -- it seems impersonal to call him Bisher -- seemed as if he might go on forever.

He had plans to cover his 63rd Masters next month, where he's been as much as part of the place as Amen Corner and pimento cheese sandwiches. He wasn't there at the start but he came along soon after, bringing his own style, voice and presence.

In our business of writing about the games people play, Furman was a giant. He could be gruff but he had earned that right over 70 years in the writing business. More often, though, he was a softie, Southern to the soul. To sit with him, in a press box or at lunch during a golf tournament, was often the best part of a day.

From Ty Cobb to Tiger Woods, Bisher saw the greats and shared what he saw with his readers. He had a way of pulling readers in and keeping them close.

He was born in Denton, not far from Lexington and attended North Carolina. While a student there, Bisher covered his first golf tournament, the 1938 Greater Greensboro Open. Writing about Byron Nelson, Bisher referred to him as 'Lord Byron,' a nickname that came to define one of the game's most elegant men.

Bisher worked at the long-departed Charlotte News for several years before heading to Atlanta where he wrote for 59 years for the Journal-Constitution. In the fall of 2009, Bisher pounded out another column on his Royal typewriter, handed it in and announced he had retired. Sudden and simple and on his 91-year old terms.

He kept coming back to the Masters, where he was honored with a parking place that chairman Billy Payne said was closer to the clubhouse than his own. It was a gesture that spoke to who Furman was and what he meant, at Augusta and beyond.

Furman had planned to watch golf on television Sunday afternoon but fate had other plans.

I'd love to hear what he had to say to St. Peter.